I’ve always wondered: is it okay to feed chipmunks?—Nerissa Jones, via email
Yes. At least, it’s okay assuming that you’re feeding them food similar to what they’d eat anyway.
“Natural foods such as unsalted nuts, fruits, and vegetables will do them no harm,” says David Hackett, a small mammals specialist with Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont. “In the fall, chipmunks are busily hoarding food in preparation for the potential hardships imposed by winter. Presumably, they will find enough wild food to last through the season, but they will also gladly accept help from humans.”
Wild Profile: Meet the chipmunk
Peanuts in the shell? Go for it—watch them stuff their wee faces! Cheetos and gummy worms? Hard no. Keep that stuff for yourself.
But feed in moderation or else your kind gesture could backfire. Chipmunks were put on this earth to hoard food. This means that unlike some other wildlife, they’re not likely to become dependent on humans as a food source. But “if you’re constantly supplying them, there is almost no limit as to how much they will take,” says Hackett. “If the food is not durable, and they’ve collected more than they can eat soon, then that food will begin to rot—potentially contaminating their winter larder.”
Also—and this is probably going to be obvious—if you feed a chipmunk, it’ll begin to check back frequently, hang around you more, and generally try to get all up in your business. “Luckily, chipmunks are not dangerous to us in the sense that bears are,” says Hackett. “Still, you shouldn’t let them climb on you. They may harbour parasites and viruses.” Ew. Not cute.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Cottage Life.
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